Chapter 2. The Anarchism of Merlino

We believe that such a demonstration is easy, even face to face with Francesco Saverio Merlino, who is a a formidable debater, wise, versed in dialectics, learned - provided that two essential terms of the debate are defined with precision.

If we agree - and I am almost certain that we do - on the notion of progress and if we agree on the fundamental and characteristic meaning of anarchism, then we have only to test the content of anarchism as a doctrine, the multiple aspects and scope of its manifestations as a movement, on the touchstone of our mutual notion of progress in order to deduce — perhaps again in agreement — whether it still contains the basis of a positive progressive aspiration (even if it lies in the distant future), whether it carries the vigorous throbs of exuberant vitality, or the incoherent convulsions of distress and agony.

Hoping to reach the desired and necessary harmony of these premises, we will refer for the notion of progress to Leon Metchnikoff,[18] a philosopher as great as he is unknown, in whom Merlino has undoubtedly the greatest regard and confidence. We find his definition of progress most positive and clear. For the notion of anarchism we shall refer to a man of whose competence Merlino has the highest opinion, for that man is. . . F. S. Merlino himself. In the noted pamphlet Perche siamo anarchici? [Why are we anarchists?] and in the incisive presentation of our principles, written by him many years ago for the ponderous Journal des Economistes, he outlines with brief but simple clarity the nature and character of our aspirations.[19]

In his splendid study of La Civilization el Les Grands Fleuves Historiques, [Civilization and the Great Rivers of History] Leon Metchnikoff writes about progress:

“In the field of pure science, ‘progress’ is understood as the sequence of natural phenomena wherein, at each stage of evolution, energy manifests itself with a growing variety and intensity. The series is called ‘progressive’ when each one of its stages reproduces the preceding ones plus some new trait that did not exist in the preceeding phase, and, in its turn, it becomes the embryo of a new plus in the following stage. A plant marks a ‘progress’ over the mineral world; it represents the process of non-organized nature plus the specific peculiarities of nutrition, growth, reproduction. The animal, in its turn, shows a progress beyond vegetable life, because it adds its peculiar faculties of movement and sensitivity to the acquisitions of the plant. Man is a progress over all other vertebrates because his sensitive and intellectual life make him capable of enjoying a wealth unknown to his predecessors.”

Of anarchism as an aspiration and philosophy, Merlino writes: ”The essence of anarchism within the evolution of thought and society is the total image of man, his integration, his needs, his unexplored energies, his infinite capacity for development, his sociability, his many relations with his fellow man and with the outer world.” Therefore, from the point of view of the individual, the aims of anarchism are:

“The economic integration of man, who is at present fragmentary or incomplete, either master or slave, mind or muscle, by combining the qualities of both producer and consumer in every single person, by making the tools and means of production available to all the workers.”

“The intellectual integration of the working people by uniting material and intellectual, industrial and agricultural work by means of a variety of occupations, so that all the human faculties may be activated (intensive cultivation of the human being).”

“The moral integration of man; satisfaction of all his moral and material needs; liberty and lack of coercion of the individual; security of life; complete development of life for all human beings.”

But, in this society, which wants to make available to all workers all means of production, and wants to assure everyone of its members the satisfaction of all material and moral needs, liberty, lack of coercion and integral development of each person —

Who will organize work and all its requirements?

On what principles will organization be built?

How will the participation of everyone in work and in leisure be managed?

Merlino replies:

Each individual, autonomous within a free group, will manage his own interests.

The basis of the organization of anarchist society will be in the solidarity of all interests and the mutual agreement among the workers.

Everyone will participate in both production and enjoyment, according to his or her ability and needs.

“Would there be need for a government, a parliament, a cabinet, a police force, a judiciary?” Nothing of this kind would exist in the anarchist system. “And how can all this come about?”

The first step towards the future society will be revolution, inevitable because the ruling classes will yield only to force. The working man must make his own revolution, take back what has been taken from him, repossess everything he has produced and others have seized, in short: expropriate the owners and the capitalists.

“Could not some good be accomplished, a few steps forward taken, by participating in the elections with formal candidates?”

No. We know for certain that workers are deceived and cheated in elections, that they will never be able to send their comrades to Parliament and. . .that even if the majority in Parliament were workers, they would be unable to do anything.

Instead of helping the workers, elections damage their own cause. Once elected to office, even the more active and intelligent among their comrades become renegades or idlers. The people are led to believe that salvation will come from above, from the government, from the Parliament, and they cease to fight.

* * *

This is anarchism, doctrine and tactic, according to Francesco Saverio Merlino.

We could have been more concise and. at points, more explicit, by drawing the fundamentals of anarchism from Kropotkin, from Malatesta. Grave, Tcherkesoff or Faure.[20] But, as we said at the beginning, we wanted to avoid any possible misunderstanding, which might misdirect the debate, making it worthless, endless, or inconclusive; therefore, we have restricted ourselves to Merlino’s own conception.

After all, his conclusions are the ones generally accepted: anarchism is the political doctrine that aims to achieve a society wherein all means of production, transformation, or exchange being common property, where each member of society will find full satisfaction of his (or her) material and moral needs and can spontaneously give his contribution according to his (or her) capacity and ability. The security of each individual in a free society lies in the universal solidarity of human interests and in the free agreement of the interested people; all forms of compulsion, of authority, of exploitation are rejected: these are the fundamental tenets of the social order called Anarchy.

It is common knowledge that Merlino disowned these ideas ten years ago [1897]. But that doesn’t mean that, if he has to speak about anarchism as thought and action, he does not refer in a special way to the ideas and the methods that he held for so many years with conviction, action and unequalled self-denial. The characteristic aspirations of anarchism are then, in the economic field, communism; in the political field, the elimination of all forms of authority and compulsion.

But this two-fold aspiration of anarchism must be understood in a larger and more complex manner than this summary might indicate at first sight.

Besides denoting common ownership of the means of production and exchange (an expression that is generally used by all branches of socialism), communism implies nowadays a whole series of relations; it implies that the material and moral needs of everyone be satisfied without any restriction other than that which is imposed by nature; and it further implies that the contribution to the necessary task of production should be given voluntarily by everyone, according to their capacity and aptitude.

Thus, the absence of authority and coercion not only implies the abolition of government, laws and constituted social orders; it implies also — and above all — the abolition of all forms of centralization of functions, even if merely administrative . . .; it implies the nonexistence of authority, be it of the majority or of a minority; it means the freedom of the autonomous individual — all individuals — within the free society.